Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 507, 27 April 2022

Afghanistan: The rise of sectarian violence
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news

On 21 April, a bomb blast inside a Shiite Mosque in northern Mazar-e-Sharif killed over 30 people and injured several. Following the attack, the Islamic State terror group's Afghan affiliate, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), claimed responsibility for the attack stating that it was part of an ongoing global campaign to "avenge" the deaths of its former leader and spokesman.

On 22 April, another bomb exploded at a Sunni Mosque in northern Kunduz province, killing 33 people and wounding dozens of others, while a mine was detonated near a market in Kabul. However, no group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Following the attacks, Taliban officials announced the arrest of a local Islamic State leader who claimed was the "mastermind" of that attack. Meanwhile, the Taliban's deputy culture and information minister called the perpetrators of the Kunduz attack "seditionists and evil elements."

Previously, on 19 April, a roadside bomb exploded near a school in Kabul, killing six and injuring several in the predominantly Shia and Hazara neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi. Another bomb blast in Kunduz injured 11 mechanics who worked for the Taliban government. However, no group claimed responsibility for these attacks.

Issues at large

First, the resurgence of violence. The recent spate of violence in Afghanistan comes after months of relative calm. Until this week's violence, Afghanistan has not witnessed any large-scale attacks, with both resistance groups and terrorist groups being inactive. This is likely due to winter being over and spring traditionally being the fighting season. However, the resurgence of violence raises fears that these groups are back in action and that the Taliban will be unable to maintain the peace.

Second, the threat of the Islamic State. The ISKP was relatively inactive in Afghanistan for the last five months; however, the recent surge in attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan targeting Shiite Muslim communities highlights the threat the group still poses. However, the resurgence of the ISKP stems from its possible goal of establishing a branch of the ISIS caliphate in Afghanistan by capitalizing on ethnic-religious divisions to consolidate its authority.

Third, the sectarian character of the attacks. Afghanistan has traditionally not suffered from sectarian violence, unlike Iraq or Syria; however, attacks on Shia minorities in recent years have caused resentment within the community, especially among the Hazaras. This nature of the violence reveals that the cloud of sectarianism still looms over Afghanistan.

Fourth, the Taliban's struggle to counter terrorist activities. Since coming to power, the Taliban government has carried out several crackdowns on ISKP and other terrorist groups operating in the region. However, their efforts have not been able to combat the activities of such groups as most of them continue to operate from their traditional bases.

In perspective 

First, the Islamic State's fight for legitimacy. The recent attacks reveal that the group is seeking to establish a space for itself in Afghanistan. Given the deep-rooted differences between the Taliban and Islamic State, their fight for legitimacy snowballing into a fight between the two groups would not be favourable given the current Afghan crisis.

Second, the continuation of sectarian violence and spillover. The recent attacks reveal that ISKP would continue terrorizing the minority communities and look for a way to destabilize the Taliban rule. The targeting of the Shia minority is likely to continue. Additionally, the threat of violence has already moved beyond Afghanistan into several parts of Pakistan. The spillover of violence is expected to spread, and most groups across the border and in Afghanistan carry out attacks.

Third, the Taliban's inability to control. The Taliban has failed to curb the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan. This week's attacks indicate that the Taliban does not have much control over the security situation in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban has several issues to deal with, it is clear that they do not have the capacity, ability and resources to curb the threat of terrorism. Additionally, it is unclear what the Taliban's strategy is when tackling terrorism. In most instances, the Taliban is still accused of supporting many terrorist groups that operate in the country.

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